Last week, I visited my mom who lives out of state in a facility. She has lived in this one since April 2013, the same year my dad died. He was in the process of making plans to move into the same place, which has a continuum of services from independent living (apartments and houses) to nursing. At that time, my mom was in assisted living. Because of a stroke and the re occurrence of blood clots (in legs and lungs), she is now in skilled nursing. My dad died before he could officially move into his apartment.
My mom has dementia. It’s not Alzheimer’s which most people assume when you say dementia, though as time goes on, people tend to be a bit more educated than when she first acquired this awful disease. She has an autoimmune type so is on a routine of low-dose steroids that her brilliant physician manages by tweaking the dose now and then.
People still ask me if she knows me, and this time, I honestly couldn’t say. She didn’t seem confused about who I was, but did not call me by name or seem particularly glad to see me. Generally, she has gotten to the point of being pretty non-interactive. She has always liked to read, though now it seems like she does this as a habit. She will pick up whatever reading material is around and flip through it. It’s hard to tell if she is really comprehending the information.
My parents have lived in the area since 1985 and I spent time there in graduate school so it’s kind of like going home. And because my dad is no longer there, it can be sad. It’s the same place, but different, without him there. The house where I spent a lot of time has been sold, and now when I visit my mom, I stay in a guest room at the facility. It’s actually better that this place is a bit outside of town, so there aren’t quite as many reminders.
Seeing my mom with her limitations is always hard. She can’t do much for herself. She can’t walk anymore and I’m not sure she can even stand without help. The staff now uses a lift to move her from her place to place – wheelchair, sitting chair, even to the toilet. It’s like a hoist and she’s on it as they move it into the bathroom. It feels dehumanizing even though I know it is used for her safety and the staff’s.
I have always wondered if she really knows what’s going on. If I talk, does she understand what I’m saying? Does she know that she has all of these illnesses? Is she lonely? There are glimpses of her personality. Once, when I was saying good night, she asked, “do you need anything?” Like I was staying at their house, and had come to visit, as if she was hosting me and wanted to make sure I had towels or something to eat. Still my mom. I tell her I love her a lot and kiss her head. When I left, I stroked her head again and again. She has soft hair and I also don’t think she is touched a lot other than practicalities, like toileting her, dressing her, etc. I tried not to cry when I was leaving or at least let her seem me. But I did.
So what does this have to do with retirement? Well, since I retired, I’ve felt like time is more and more precious. The days seem to go faster, whether I’m busy with a bunch of stuff or whether I spend several hours binge-watching a series, like I did yesterday with my husband. I’m thankful that when I visit my mom, I have the space to recover from the visit instead of heading right back to work. I’m able to visit a bit more often, instead of finding time between work demands to fit a visit in. And it’s a reminder of my own mortality. None of us know the future. I do wish my mom, and my dad, had had more time. But then how much is enough, really?